Hopping on the Brand Wagon

A blog on the topic of personal branding seemed like a natural follow-up to last week’s “I Know My Brand … Do You Know Yours?” As I started to ponder what to write, I had the strangest sense of Déjà vu. Seems I’d touched on that subject a few years back, so why re-create the wheel?

Whether you’re an entrepreneur, executive, business owner, consumer—essentially if you have a pulse and are connected in any way to the outside world—you probably don’t go a day without hearing someone, somewhere talking or writing about branding. It’s all around us on TV, radio, and the Internet . . . and all the buzz and fuss probably has you thinking, “Geez, I gotta do something.”

That said, take a moment revisit my blog from yester-year and then decide for yourself if it’s time to hop aboard the “brand wagon.” As always, your comments and feedback are welcome.

Enjoy!

Putting People Behind Your Brand

(Originally posted on May 17, 2011)

Facebook gets the second most online traffic every day, just behind Google. Not too far behind them are other social media giants such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and scores more tailoring to specific audiences and niches.

King Monkey

King Monkey says “More Creativity, More Ideas, More Fun!”

If that doesn’t get your juices going—if it doesn’t get you thinking your company/brand better jump on the social media bandwagon—it should.

Friends, fans, and followers are tweeting, posting, and connecting about people, places, movies, products, services, things they like, things they don’t like, etc. etc. in ever-increasing numbers. From a marketing perspective, you can’t help but want to be part of the conversation . . . and you can’t afford NOT to be.

One way companies can stand out from the increasingly crowded social media jungle is by giving customers and prospects a flavor of the people behind their brands—from presidents and CEOs, to executives and other senior staff.

If this sounds like a case of trying too hard to connect people and products, think again. Where would Sir Richard Branson and his various Virgin offshoots be absent his efforts to connect personality and corporate branding? What about Steve Jobs and Apple?

Granted, much of their efforts took place prior to the social media explosion, but their success in wedding personal and corporate branding can’t be overstated.

I’m not suggesting every company exec or head honcho has to convey the swagger of Branson or the intellectual “cool” of Jobs, but there is value in letting customers and prospective customers know more about the people behind the products.

Why? Because customers and prospects are more likely to talk about and buy from companies that share their values—and what better way to demonstrate those values than to engage in social media programs built around your executives?

Your customers/prospects will get to see what the people behind your brand look like, hear what they are thinking, and learn what they are doing. In turn, they’ll share this information within their social networks, opening your brand up to their ever-expanding circles of friends, associates, and friends of friends.

TIP#1: In general, content should reflect your company tone and message. The personal stuff can come later—funny, poignant tidbits and insight about your executives, yet consistent with your brand.

TIP#2: Stay on message, but remain flexible enough to reference real-time, relevant events and company news.

TIP#3: Utilize a cross-strategy of pinging/commenting on industry and related blogs. It shows your team is in touch and connected, plus readers of these other blogs might start following you and sharing your messages within their social networks.

TIP #4: Be sure your company Web site is up-to-date and relevant so those who become interested in your brand can go there to learn more about you, buy your product or service, or read your blog.

TIP#5: Play nice with others. Social media sites are not the place to criticize competitors or put down their products. Make it all about you!

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I Know My Brand . . . Do You Know Yours?

Monkeyz

Feedback is how we know we are doing something right; it’s also how we know when we’re doing something wrong. Feedback is necessary. It’s how we improve our relationships and raise our golf (or in my case, volleyball) game to the next level; it’s also how we fine-tune our business offerings and hone our brands.

I love getting and giving feedback.

On the personal side, feedback is important for growing and nurturing relationships with friends and family and loved ones. As a marketer and a business entrepreneur, feedback is necessary for the care and feeding of my business relationships and network, and it’s how I know if my message is getting out and whether or not my brand is clear.

That’s why I encourage readers of this blog and my followers on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to comment on my posts. Generally, your comments help me know if my message/brand is being received as intended or whether I need to refine my approach.

Every now and then, though, I get feedback that makes me step back and think, what is my brand? Do I truly know it, and am I communicating it effectively?

Recently, my inspirational, daily religious quote elicited the following response from a long-time LinkedIn contact, creative branding specialist, and friend:

Re: Ponder This

Hey Paul – hope all is well, but I have a question for you. 

Do you think religious scripture – regardless of what one’s faith is – is appropriate for LinkedIn, a business site?

Do you see any other posts like that?

Those of you who read this blog regularly or follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn know that my beliefs and values are worldly with a Christian focus. I make no attempt to hide this. Authenticity and being true to my beliefs and values are important to me. You also know that I do not try to juggle both a “business brand” along with a “personal brand.” There is only one Paul June, so there is only one Paul June brand.

Thus my reply—

It works for me and is part of who I am and I am proud of it. I respect all religions and enjoy seeing when others post (which is seldom to your point). Feel free to disregard. Hope all is well and I like your comment. 

— was really the only reply possible so that I could stay true to myself and to my brand.

Some of you may be thinking this flies in the face of the old adage, “never mix religion and politics with business or polite company.” In other words, why go there if I don’t need to?

It’s simple, really. I choose to “go there” because doing so reveals something about me as a person; it’s not an attempt to sway others to my point of view. It’s who I am. It’s my brand.

I know my brand  . . . do you know yours?monkey_sketch_web

  • I know my brand
  • I know my audience
  • Analytics speak to it
  • “Daily Religious Quotes” speak to it
  • “Daily Quotes” speak to it
  • People who do business with me value it
  • My personal slogan is “More Creativity, More Ideas, More Fun!”
  • My target audience covers consumer (people) products and can be broken down into consumer electronics, toys, gifts, apparel, sports, outdoor retail, action sports, general retail, digital media, social media, web site development, SEO/SEM, marketing, and branding.
  • One of my goals with this blog and through social media is to inspire, motivate, and energize others by providing what I think is entertaining, informative, and enriching content.

In the end, it’s all about being genuine and “real” to your audience. It’s about knowing your brand. In the immortal words of a certain, spinach-eating cartoon character, “I yam what I yam and that’s all what I yam.

So now you know how I responded to the “Ponder This” comment. How would you have replied? Please share with others. I look forward to and invite your feedback.

Special Thanks to Chris Gregg, Jamie Blattstein, Matt McGovern and Monkeyz Business Nation for their inspiration, feedback, and support.

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Making the A-List

The calendar tells me it’s spring—though some of my northern and mid-western buddies might disagree—and the days are getting longer and warmer. Another true sign of spring is that the Major League baseball season is upon us (Go Dodgers!). For baseball fans across the land, hope springs eternal and anything, at least for a week or two, seems possible for the good old “home team.”

Have you considered your “team” lately? Whether you operate a small business, manage a department within a larger corporation, or are a solo entrepreneur juggling a lineup of freelancers, your team and how it performs is critical to your success.

More Creativity, More Ideas, More FUN!

Barrel O’ Monkeyz is The BOM

Tell me, would you prefer your team to get results like the world Champion Boston Red Sox or to achieve more like the cellar-dweller Houston Astros?

The answer is obvious. In business (and I would argue ALL walks of life), results matter. Results are a direct function of performance, and performance relies on the skills and expertise of your team.

Does your team consist of top performers, true “A” listers? Or do you have what, at best, could be described as “B” and “C” level talent?

If the latter, is it for lack of understanding what top talent could mean for your business, or are you like many leaders who surround themselves with less-than-stellar performers, convinced they either can’t afford or can’t attract the kind of A-level talent they’d like?

Competition being what it is these days, I would argue you can’t afford NOT to surround yourself with top performers, from the key players within your organization, to the vendors you use, to your network of trusted colleagues and confidantes.

Of course, having what’s considered “A” level talent at every position is no guarantee of success. Just ask Detroit Tigers, Texas Rangers, LA Dodgers, and New York Yankees teams of recent vintage, and even aforementioned Boston Red Sox, circa 2011. In every case, having a team of All Stars (or at least talent paid at an all-star level) did not equate to championship caliber performances.

Clearly, while most “A” listers tend to be self-motivated, accountable, get-it-done types, what it takes to be a top performer for one business (or team) can vary greatly from what it takes to be an “A” lister for another. Teams, and specifically the individuals who make them up, can only perform at “A” level when the conditions for success are right, namely the alignment of individual and organizational values, attitude, and work ethic.

For example, do you encourage flexible work schedules? Do you encourage employees to get the job done when it needs getting done, and not to worry about punching clock 9 to 5? Or does the nature of your work or your clientele require that all work take place during so-called banker’s hours? There’s no right or wrong answer. If flexibility is key to your business success, then you don’t want someone on your team for whom a rigid 9-to-5 schedule is a requirement, and vice versa. Or maybe the answer for your organization is something in-between—a mix of the virtual and physical, with some team members participating in the work place materially, while others telecommute by phone or some online platform. Again, there’s no right or wrong answer.

So how do you know what works best for your organization?

One place to start is simply to ASK your current team members. What is it about the work environment, from the products and services you produce or deliver, to compensation and benefits, to day-to-day of office life, that makes them work their best?

If something’s missing what can you add? If something’s working, what can you do to encourage more of that behavior?

Once you’ve determined what motivates your people the most, you can introduce ways to reward and recognize them accordingly for jobs well done. While you may be inclined to believe cold hard cash motivates employees best, time and again workplace studies have shown that as long as top performers feel they are paid fairly, money is not what gets them jazzed. Instead, employees usually mention the general work environment itself (flexibility, alignment with their values, etc.), a boss who is respectful and who provides them with inspiration, and professional development/advancement opportunities as being key motivators.

Alternatively (or in addition to asking your employees), create a checklist of who you consider to be your top performers. Note what characteristics they share and where they differ.

What common themes do you see among your top performers? Again, what can you do to encourage more of that behavior? What can you do to enhance existing skillsets and develop others that need honing?

Once you know more about what makes your environment conducive to “A” caliber performance:

  • Encourage your top performers to mentor others in the organization. Ask them to lead by example.
  • Adjust your recruiting practices to attract the right people to your team. Emphasize those key elements of your business you know will appeal to “A” listers.
  • Adjust your work environment—from benefits to compensation, to flexibility and training and professional development opportunities—to retain top talent.
  • Encourage prudent risk-taking by making “failure” part of your equation for success. Fear of failure is one of the top killers of performance. Do you think LeBron James worries about missing a shot as the seconds tick down? What about Michael Jordan, Magic, Larry Bird, Kareem, or any of a host of other stars of the NBA’s yesteryear? None of them was afraid of failing. They wanted the ball in their hands when it counted most. None of them won all the time; but each would most likely make it onto any coach’s basketball “A” team. For them, nothing ventured was nothing gained. Failing was part of their equation for success (and for your team to be truly top-performing, that’s the kind of can-do attitude you want).

As Wall Street tells us again and again, past performance is no guarantee of future success. If something’s not right with your current team, find out why. Find out what would make current underperforming members move up to your “A” team. And if you don’t have “A” listers, get some. You and your business can’t afford not to.

How do you motivate your “team” to succeed? What processes have you put in place to help keep your pipeline filled with “A” list talent?

Share your ideas here.

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Does Your Business/Brand Pass the Referral Test?

Nothing beats good word-of-mouth.

Whether you’re looking to find a good deal on a purchase, a nice meal out, a plumber you can trust, a new job, or to hire someone to build-up your online presence, when someone you know and trust refers you to a specific vendor or individual, his or her words carry a lot of weight for you and for the person/service being referred.

While marketing and brand recognition and online presence are critical, referrals (especially for small businesses) remain king. As the subject of a referral, the implication is that you/your business has passed a litmus test of sorts. You’ve made a customer happy, exceeded expectations, and delivered a quality product or service—so much so that someone is willing to recommend you to a colleague, friend, or family member.

That may not sound like much—you might even assume it happens all the time—but trust me, positive referrals are hugely important to the success of small businesses and entrepreneurs  . . . and it doesn’t happen all the time. There is often just as much BAD word-of-mouth out there as there is good, and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure which kind of word-of-mouth you’re after. 

Without further ado, let’s take a look at previous blog of mine on the real value of referrals. It’s an oldie, but a goodie from nearly three years ago. Enjoy!

The Real VALUE of Referrals

(Originally posted on April 28, 2011)

Between you and me, referrals are the lifeblood of my business, the jungle juice. Without referrals, this King Monkey would seldom jump for joy. I suspect referrals are critical for your business too, especially if you work in the professional services space.

Now, I wouldn’t be a good marketing guy if I told you referrals were the only answer. They aren’t. There are zillions of other ways to reach your target audience, and each has its own time and place. But referrals are a vital part (if not the vital part) of any successful business generating and business sustaining strategy. That’s right—many times referrals are the key both to finding customers and keeping customers.

How do you go about generating referrals? The easiest, least costly way is simply to ask for them. Anyone can do it. In fact, you could start doing it right now. For example, “Would you refer a friend or colleague you think would benefit from my product or service?” (See—I just did it!)

Where do you start? You don’t have to look any further than your current customers. They already know you, they trust you, and chances are they know someone just like them who could use your help. Think also of the message this sends your customers: “I value you so much as a customer that I respect your opinion on who you think would make a good client.” Talk about a retention strategy. Most customers will be flattered you asked (as long as there’s no pressure or heavy-handed salesmanship, of course).

Now think about all of your close associates and those service providers with whom you already do business . . . your network. They, too, can be a great source of referrals. Like your current customers, they already know you and may have the inside track on prospects they think will be a good match for you. They, too, will be flattered you asked, further cementing your relationships.

So with one simple action—asking—you’ve:

  • Created a huge sales force of goodwill ambassadors that’s bigger than any sales team you might otherwise employ
  • Generated better leads of people more likely to want to do business with you
  • Strengthened relationships with current customers and your network

In my book, that all adds up to huge VALUE for everyone involved: you, your customers, your network, and your prospects.

TIP #1: You may be wondering, “Couldn’t I sweeten the pie by offering incentives (bananas anyone?) to my customers and my network to make referrals?” You could, but before you commit, consider how doing so might decrease the authenticity of and value of the leads you get.

TIP #2: I believe you get by giving. As you get referrals from your network, don’t forget to return the favor.

TIP#3: Check out these great reads for referral base marketing: The Go-Giver by Bob Burg and John David Mann and Referral of a Lifetime by Tim Templeton, Ken Blanchard, and Lynda Rutledge Stephenson.

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Change: It’s One of Life’s Constants

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.”

These are words we’re all likely familiar with, even if we don’t know their source or true meaning.

Attributed to theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in a 1943 sermon, the roots of The Serenity Prayer, by all accounts, are much deeper—harkening back hundreds if not thousands of years in the oral tradition. In more recent times, the words have become associated with Alcoholics Anonymous and other such 12-step programs.

Now you may be wondering, “Paul, what does The Serenity Prayer have to do with marketing and business and other professional pursuits”?

Well, to the extent that we are all human beings with hopes and dreams and aspirations, as well as setbacks and challenges and obstacles—whether they are personal or professional or a combination— the words found in this prayer apply to practically any situation involving change:

  • Dealing with a change in career, job loss, or downsizing
  • Rolling out a big new project at work
  • Getting promoted
  • Getting demoted or shuffled sideways
  • Retiring
  • Dealing with the loss of a loved one
  • Getting married
  • Getting divorced
  • Having a baby
  • Coping with a change in your health
  • Moving
  • Sending your child off to college
  • etc., etc., etc.

You name it; our lives are filled with change. You could say when it comes to life’s constants, change is right up there with “death” and “taxes.”

For me, I’ve recently made some BIG changes in my life: I moved (again), and I got engaged to the love of my life! All great stuff.

Unfortunately, many people suffer through change. They fall victim to it. They let it happen to them: career transitions, relationships, business performance, and even their mental and physical well-being.

Many, however, are able to cope with change—both positive and negative. Why?

Consider the words of The Serenity Prayer again:

  • They are able to accept those things they cannot change. Inevitably, every one of us will face a situation we cannot change: the weather, the end of life, the obnoxious cell phone user at the table next to us at dinner. You get the picture. It’s how we deal with the inevitable that separates the victors from the victims.
  • They seize opportunities to change the things they can. Unhappy at work? Unhappy at home? They are not afraid to make changes. From career changes, to moving, to moving on, these people embrace change (and life in general) full throttle. They do something about it.
  • They know what they can and cannot change. They learn to recognize those things in life that are inevitable. Yes, if you live in California and choose to stay there, you will experience earthquakes. Yes, if you live in northern climes and choose to stay, you will experience cold and snow. They also learn to recognize what they can change . . . and how . . . and they do it.

When is the last time you made a big change in your life? How did the transition go? Did you embrace the change fully, or did you vacillate between being all-in and giving only partial effort? Chances are, if it’s the latter, your experience was either stressful, less than satisfactory, or took much longer than necessary.

If something’s worth doing, it’s worth your full and undivided attention and effort. Otherwise, you waste time, energy, and resources hedging your bets and then wondering, “what might have been” had you given it 100%.

  • Think of the star athlete attempting a comeback from injury. Would he or she be successful giving it only half effort?
  • Would Apple be where it is today if Steve Jobs hadn’t come back into the fold in the 1990s?
  • Would 2001: A Space Odyssey ever have seen the light of day if Arthur C. Clarke had not accepted dozens of rejections as the price to pay for publication?
  • Would Thomas Edison’s name be synonymous with invention had he not tried and tried again?
  • Would Albert Einstein be as revered today as he is, if he and his parents had listened to his kindergarten teachers who thought he was “slow”?
  • Would this country even exist if our founding fathers had not persevered?

The answer of course, is no, and the common denominator is that when faced with change, when faced with adversity, these individuals chose to accept it, embrace it, and make the most of it.

What about you? Do you embrace life, change and all, or do you just let it pass you by?

Share your thoughts here. And for those not familiar with all its verses, here is The Serenity Prayer in full:

The Serenity Prayer

“God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change,
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

“Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.

“Amen.” (Reinhold Niebuhr)

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Do Something

I’m a doer. I like to get things done. I suspect most of you are doers, too. That’s why you visit my blog. You want some insight on how to get things done.

Theodore Roosevelt (26th President of the United States) once said, “Far and away the best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.” I agree.

I imagine most people who get into business, or politics, or positions of leadership, or even athletes, would agree as well—or at least they start out wanting to work hard at work worth doing. They would have to, don’t you think? “Doing” is what made them successful.

But something happens along the way. People stop doing. I wish I knew why for sure. Maybe, after achieving so much, it’s fear of failure or fear of losing a good thing. Maybe it’s complacency or apathy, or maybe the fires that drive simply begin to fade with time.

Whatever the reason, there’s a message in there somewhere for business leaders, political pundits, and John and Jane Q. Public who these days seem more than content to sit on the sidelines and let things happen rather than to make things happen.

Roosevelt also said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

What are you doing to seize the personal and professional opportunities that come your way? What are you doing to CREATE opportunities for yourself and for others?

Don’t let fear of the unknown or complacency govern your actions. Do something because, as I said in a blog I wrote nearly two-and-a-half years ago, “it’s your move,” and no one else is going to make it for you. Here’s that blog again. Enjoy!

It’s Your Move

(Originally posted on August 2, 2011)

What do you do when times get tough, personally or professionally? Do you curl up in a ball and try to ride it out, hoping for the best, or do you take action?

This King Monkey believes nothing’s going to happen unless you make it happen. Just as the military teaches soldiers to move when attacked, to initiate movement or face defeat or capture, so too do we “civilians” need to prepare and take action when the time comes.

Faced with a business or personal dilemma, however, many of us suffer from analysis paralysis.  Faced with a need to take action, we instead mull over every move, every possibility, and every bit of minutiae to the point where we take no action, succumbing to our fears of “what might happen.” That’s no good, especially not in the business world where standing pat and failing to react to changing market forces can be the death knell for a company or business opportunity. Fearing what might happen ensures that nothing does happen—at least nothing good.

Life, in general, is like that, too. Inertia is the tendency of an object at rest to remain at rest, or an object in motion to remain in motion. As business leaders, and even in our personal lives, we simply can’t afford to stand still. We cannot act like deer caught in the headlights, or monkeys stuck on a branch afraid to search for that next handhold. Fortunately, we have the benefit of history—of knowing what’s worked for us and for others in similar situations—and the ability to learn from past  mistakes and respond accordingly.

But will we seize those opportunities? Will we overcome our fear of taking action and boldly go? Will we remain stubborn and repeat past mistakes, or will we adapt, learn, and take steps forward with confidence?

I’m not suggesting taking action for the sake of taking action.  But taking action should be part of your everyday vocabulary, part of the monkey chatter. New clients and new opportunities aren’t going to come through the door (whether that door is virtual or bricks and mortar) unless you initiate some sort of movement to make it so. Likewise, that proposal, marketing plan, or new product or service idea is not going to complete itself. It’s up to you, the business owner, the entrepreneur, the head honcho to make something happen.

It’s your move. What’s it going to be?

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If An Apple Falls, Does it Make a Sound?

Today’s headline got the tech and business worlds all a twitter, and even made yours truly take notice: “Android tablets capture 62% of market share in 2013, beating out iPad for the first time.”

Could it be true? How could Apple let such a thing happen?

Now read the headline again. It says “Android tablets” which many vendors produce—Samsung, Asus, LG, Sony, etc.—compared to Apple, the only producer of the iPad. As such, Apple remains the most successful single purveyor of tablets, enjoying a marketshare of about 36%, compared to its next closest rival, Samsung, at just over 19%.

Granted, the success of cheaper and more abundant Android tablets has got to have Apple looking nervously over its shoulder. After all, wasn’t the iPad mini and iPad Air going to help Apple stay atop the tablet heap?

On the Smartphone side of things, Apple’s market share dipped in 2013 to about 12%, while Samsung’s marketshare held steady at around 32% (smartphones operating the Android operating system account for some 78% of the market). Again, Apple’s performance was despite the introduction of two highly anticipated products, the iPhone 5S and the iPhone 5C.

What gives? With Steve Jobs in the grave, has the Apple lost a bit of its luster?

Maybe.

Apple’s stock price peaked at over $700 a share in September 2012, fell to $393 in April 2013, and now seems to have settled out in the $520 range, give or take. On the other hand, Google (maker of the Android operating system) has seen its stock rise from around $700/share to more than $1,200.

Say it ain’t so, (Apple CEO) Tim Cook, say it ain’t so!

Could Apple be getting too big for its britches, too complacent? Perhaps . . .

While Apple was the clear frontrunner/innovator with the iPod, iPhone, and iPad, what has it done for us lately?

  • Bigger smartphone screen? Chalk that up to Samsung.
  • Lower price point? Again, another notch in Samsung’s belt.
  • OS improvements? While the Android OS was going through a series of technical and ease-of-use improvements in recent years, Apple decided to change the look/feel of its operating system much to the chagrin of many users, designed its own mapping/GPS product (the much-maligned and barely usable Apple Maps), plus gave us Siri, which has many Apple enthusiasts still on the gimmick/not-a-gimmick fence.
  • Topping it off, with the introduction of iOS 7, Apple started blocking the use of uncertified (non-Apple) charging cables with its devices—forcing consumers to buy Apple’s pricier $20 to $40 chargers (certainly not the kind of thing that tends to endear you to consumers).

 . . . but then again, perhaps not.

The top rules of marketing are to KNOW YOUR CUSTOMER and KNOW YOURSELF, and perhaps Apple knows its customers (and itself) best of all.

While I tend to believe, all things being equal, that mystique will only get you so far, Apple DOES have a certain mystique. Steve Jobs fed this mystique, and it continues after his death. It’s what put Apple on the map (that and a series of technological innovations that changed the way the whole world interacts), and it’s what allows them to call their customer service reps “Geniuses” while no other vendor could get away with it! Maybe, in Apple’s case, mystique is enough.

So before we start feeling too sorry for Apple and all that could have been had “the man in black” stuck around for a few more years, consider this:

  • Apple’s cash-on-hand at the end of 2013 equaled $147 billion. That’s not the market value of the company. That’s actual money—cold, hard cash—that it has to spend.
  • Google, on the other hand, had just north of $55 billion cash-on-hand at the end of 2013, while Samsung, the seeming front-runner of the tablet and smartphone wars came in with “just” $35 billion on hand. While both are flush with cash, together they have just slightly more than Apple’s cash reserves.
  • A further look at the numbers reveals that Android market gains have come primarily outside the more lucrative US and Canadian markets. Plus the overall market “pie” has grown, meaning that while Apple’s percentage of the pie may be smaller, it’s still selling as much, if not more, units compared to a few years back when it was the undisputed smartphone and tablet champ.

So clearly, the sky is not falling entirely for Apple; there are just more competitors jockeying for position up there. And to some degree, Apple seems quite content to let others command the high volume, lower profit market space, while it commands higher-end, more affluent markets.

For instance, powered by Google’s ubiquitous Android operating system, which Google allows to be modified freely, Apple’s competitors are able to produce cheaper and more abundant tablets, often in the $100 to $200 price range.

On the other hand, Apple tightly controls the dissemination of its operating system and devices. It does not license its iOS for installation on non-Apple hardware, and the result is that Apple tablets cost anywhere from $500 to $800. Why? Apple can charge that much because they only way you are going to get an Apple is to buy an Apple. In addition, Apple is highly controlling about who it allows to develop apps and other accessories for its devices. As a result, all things Apple come with higher perceived value and they command (and get) higher prices.

With such complete control over its operating system and the hardware it appears on, Apple can choose its partners carefully and steer its products in any direction it desires, while Android developers have to worry about their apps performing on multiple hardware platforms developed by multiple manufacturers—no easy task.

So while it’s no surprise Apple has lost market share, you can’t help but wonder if, to some extent, it’s market share Apple was willing to lose, especially in the short term so that it could more deftly maneuver its offerings to win at whatever comes next (platform independence anyone?) in the techno-giant wars.

I know I’m not to ready give up my Apple devices (or my Apple stock) just yet.

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Give Me a Break

With most schools on the east coast off the week of President’s day, and a good portion of schools shut down for all or part of the same week in the rest of the country—the proverbial winter break for students and teachers—my mind starting wandering back to the heady days of youth, back to when we enjoyed summer break, winter break, and (naturally) spring break, plus the usual holidays and the occasional teacher “in-service” day (whatever that was, to me it was just another day off from school).  As students, we didn’t know then how good we had it!

Recently, I read an online article where some parents and educators were arguing to do away with the winter break, especially given its closeness to the traditional December holiday break and late-March and April spring breaks, and the fact that the public school year can sometimes almost reach into July for many due to numerous storm day cancellations.

While I’ll leave the debate for or against winter break up to those who know better, I did get to thinking about vacations and breaks in general. Student or adult, worker or retiree, we all need breaks—breaks from work, breaks from the stresses of everyday life, etc.

I blogged about this last spring, so without further ado, here is that blog again . . . enjoy!

Disconnect Rx

(Originally posted on April 24, 2013)

We all need to disconnect at times from the day-to-day challenges of our business and personal lives, whether it’s for a planned vacation, an impromptu walk on a local nature trail or beach, watching your favorite sports team on the flat screen (Go Dodgers!), or simply checking out for a proverbial “mental health day” to do nothing in particular.

Disconnecting helps us recharge mentally, physically, and spiritually.

When is the last time you took a true break from work, or from the grind of everyday life? When is the last time you checked your personal and professional commitments at the door and simply enjoyed the here and now, with no distractions from cell phones, text messages, emails, or the Internet?

I’m not suggesting blowing off work, a school assignment, or your Aunt Millie’s 75th birthday bash just to stay home and play video games or go beach combing. What I am suggesting is building down time into your regular routine, whether daily or weekly. We all need it . . . especially when we feel we can’t take the time because we’re just “so busy.”

My experience has been that many people stay connected all the time because it makes them feel busy, and they equate being busy with being productive or profitable. Well, being busy isn’t the same as being productive or efficient. Often, it’s quite the opposite. Too much of anything is bad, and too much connectivity can leave you frazzled , burned out, and ineffective.

What does not being able to disconnect say about you?

An incessant need to stay connected could mean you are addicted to technology such as the Internet, your mobile device, tablet, PC, Facebook, etc. (it happens, it’s been documented, and it’s real), but it could also mean you have a controlling personality that doesn’t trust others to do the job right at work or even on the home front.

If this is you, think about the message you send to staff, friends, your children, your spouse, and even your customers if you can’t put the technology down for a day or two and let those around you either fly or falter on their own.

Are you really the only one who can do the job? Really? Is there no one you can delegate to so you can disengage, even for a short while?

Failing to delegate early on in a managerial or entrepreneurial career might be a necessity (there isn’t anyone else to delegate to), but long-term inability to delegate is a whole other issue, especially when you have support staff and/or family and friends more than willing and able to step in so you can take a break.

Successful people feel comfortable disconnecting. They learn to delegate early on in their personal lives and their professional lives, trusting that others can (and will) carry on when they are away.

What does not being able to disconnect say about your attitude toward your staff, your family, your friends?

If you don’t think others can take over for you when you’re not around, one of two things is going on:

  • You have an over-inflated sense of how indispensable you are, or
  • You truly have no key staff (or friends or family members) on which you can rely.

The good news, of course, is that either scenario is correctible. And let’s get real: NO ONE is that indispensable. Even the President gets some down time (some more than others!).

Unless you are the only person in the whole world who can do a certain thing, or lives depend on you, what’s the worst that can happen if you disconnect from your phone or email for a day or two (or more)?

I guarantee you the sun will still come up, the world will keep on spinning, and all of “businessdom” will not come to a screeching halt. Might you miss a business opportunity, a chance to network, or some pithy comment from one of your Facebook buds? Sure. But if it’s worthwhile, the opportunity (or one like it) will still be there when you reconnect, and there will be other chances to engage friends and family either in-person or virtually.

Very few things in life actually are “act now or never” sorts of propositions. We like to think they are (it gets the adrenaline flowing) but the reality is, for the majority of us business and homebody types, most things can wait. Of course, if you’re the world’s foremost heart or brain surgeon, you’re playing by a whole different set of rules . . . but even then, you’d have a support team in place—even then you could get away. There is such a thing as contacting you in case of emergency (a real emergency), after all.

So disconnect. Take the time to take some time. Your workers, friends, and family will thank you. YOU will thank you . . . and you just might come to realize that by disconnecting from one thing (technology), you get to connect with other things (nature, family, the here and now).

Disconnect a little bit each day if you can, or pick a day out of the week that’s your down day, and don’t feel guilty. You might just be surprised what you discover about yourself and the world around you.  Hyper-connectivity might make you busier, but it doesn’t make you more effective in business or in life.

How do you disconnect? Share what’s worked or not worked for you here.

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Taking the Lead: You Make the Call

You or your marketing team has generated leads. You have foot traffic, phone calls, Web traffic and/or all of the above . . . but now what?

You’ve captured the attention of prospective customers, so what do you want them to do?

Many small business owners fail to make obvious calls to action—to ask prospects to do SOMETHING—either in-person or online that, hopefully, result in sales.

How many times have you visited a Web site that’s come up on a search for some product or service you have interest in, only to find there’s no obvious next step for you to take?

Sure, there’s some information on the site about the item or service, but you have questions. Is the product or service right for you? What do others think? Are there pictures, reviews, and testimonials you can look at? If you are interested in learning more, what are you supposed to do, where can you turn? Is there a person you can call or send an email? Is there a social media presence so you can see what others are saying? And just where is the site owner’s contact information?

Absent an obvious next step, many people click the proverbial back button or close their browser window altogether, neither of which is good for business.

Similarly, consider those brick and mortar locations we’ve all experienced. You know the places: you walk in looking for a particular item, but the store is not very well organized and there’s no one available to answer your questions—only the muffled voice of someone in the back on the phone.

What do you do? Do you take precious personal time to hunt high and low for something that may or may not be there, or do you shout out to the person in the back who seems more interested in having a personal conversation than in making a sale?

Chances are you’ll simply move on to some other venue that makes it easier for you to do business with them, where you’re greeted by helpful (not pushy) sales staff eager to assist . . . the kind of place you’ll return to in the future and tell others about.

When either a Web site or a physical storefront makes customers uncertain about how and where to find product or sales information, the sale is likely lost, and all the hard work attracting the lead goes for naught.

I’m not suggesting that every lead is a sale. Good conversion rates for retail are generally 3% to 5%, and for ecommerce somewhere in the 5% to 10% range. But not every lead needs to become a sale for you (and the lead) to benefit. A lot of good will gets generated through pleasant greetings, warm smiles, and can-do, helping attitudes.

Sometimes a lead simply shows up in the wrong place. That’s no reason to be rude or unhelpful. Whether face-to-face or by email or phone inquiry, you can pay it forward with a simple “how can I help” and offer suggestions on where the lead might go for the desired product or service. You’ll make a good impression and maybe, just maybe, that lead will come back when he or she does need your particular product or service.

Of course, if the lead HAS landed in the right place—either at your virtual or physical business location—then making engaging with you/your business as easy as possible is critical, whether as a paying customer or not.

As marketers, we all know that one-touch customers are rare. Usually, people need to hear from us at least 3 to 8 times before they decide to buy. Too often, we generate leads and then give our prospects an all-or-nothing sort of proposition: “Buy this product or service now . . . or go elsewhere.”

But what if you were to give your leads an opportunity to experience you/your service free of charge or at a low price point before committing to a bigger ticket item? What might your conversion rates look like then?

  • If you sell a product, can you offer free samples or a low-cost, low-risk trial version?
  • If you offer a service, is there a low-cost, no strings attached preliminary step people can take—an assessment, a survey, or some sort of free time-limited consult?
  • Do you have value-added information you can share—a free newsletter, blog, useful tips, eBook, or report—that leads can’t get elsewhere and that they will perceive as valuable enough for them to give you their email address in return?
  • Do you give leads a reason to engage with you on social media? Do you offer specials or promotional items through your social media presence, sufficient so that people will join your social media community and/or share your content with others?

In other words, do you make it EASY for your leads to take baby steps towards what you hope will be a bigger commitment and longer-term relationship in the form of buying a product or service you offer?

Here are some tips for both physical and online venues:

  • Keep it simple. Ensure your marketing message and sales messages are clear and in alignment so that you can meet or exceed customer expectations regularly.
  • Make the experience easy. Whether walking in the door or visiting your home page, make the experience for customers easy. They should not have to think too hard to determine next steps or to respond favorably to your sales message in some way. Have your sales people look and act the part; if online, offer obvious paths and choices for more product information, reviews, etc.
  • Provide “baby steps” in the form of low-cost, low-risk options so leads who otherwise might move on can experience your product or service without having to go “all in” with a long-term commitment or high-priced item.
  • Make a call to action. Ask leads to take some specific action (i.e. buy, register, call, subscribe, etc.), and make taking that action as easy and as straightforward as possible.
  • Engage visitors by giving them a way to say connected with you, either through social media or by subscribing to your blog or enewsletter. The more touches you have with a lead, the greater the likelihood he or she will become a customer. But remember, your content needs to demonstrate value so that leads will be willing to share their email addresses.

Grocery stores offer free food samples all the time. They’ve learned that while some people simply cruise the samples for free nibbles, many use the opportunity to trial something they might not otherwise buy. The same goes for wine-tasting, and you certainly wouldn’t buy a car without a test drive.

What about your business? What low-cost, low-risk options do you provide so that leads can experience what you have to offer by first “kicking the tires?”

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Sportsmanship on Display

Admittedly I’m more partial to the summer Olympics (volleyball, anyone?), but the spirit of competitiveness and sportsmanship on display at Sochi is refreshing.

If you happened to catch Czech snowboarder Sarka Pancochova’s scary fall, where she cracked her helmet, you know what I mean. Pancochova knew she had to have a performance for the ages to win gold, and true to her competitive nature, she went for it. Seconds later, though, she was smacking her head on the slope, much to the dismay of on-looking skiers and audience members, whose genuine concern was captured on camera for all the world to see.

In that moment, I did not sense Pancochova’s rivals found any delight in her bad spill. I sensed only concern for their fallen colleague, the kind of attitude that says “I want to win by doing my best, and not at the expense (or wellbeing) of somebody else.”

I wrote a blog about competition almost two years ago, wondering how the business world (and even our politics) might benefit if competition were based on winning by being the best we can be rather than winning by tearing down the other guy (or gal) down. Positive competition is healthy—it leads to innovation and success—while competition based on settling scores is emotionally and financially destructive.

So in the spirit of Olympic Athletes around the globe, here’s that blog again. Enjoy!

Win By Being the Best You Can Be

(Originally posted on April 17, 2012)

REVENGE. It sure makes for great movie fodder. After all, what can be better than Ricardo Montalbán (as Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II) purring “Revenge is a dish best served cold” to Kirk and crew as the faltering Enterprise faces near-certain doom? Good stuff for the big screen, but revenge as a way of life, a way of conducting business is distracting and unproductive at best, and can leave you lost.

How do YOU compete with other businesses in your “space?” Do you compete on value, customer service, or the unique qualities of your product to build your business and gain success? Or do you simply try to settle scores with your competition, trying to win through “revenge” and belittling “the other guy”?

Long ago, Chinese philosopher Confucius advised “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.” Those were wise words then, they remain wise words today.

Looking at your business, do you feel you should be “winning” the competition with others, but aren’t? Do you blame someone else, whether it’s a person or a business, for your lack of success? Does this “blame game” fuel a desire to lash out at competitors—taking the proverbial “low road”—versus taking a loftier route?

Settling scores, revenge, retribution—they’re all pretty much the same and they all result in the same thing: HUGE energy drains on you, your emotions, your business, and your professional and social circles. Holding a grudge takes energy. It’s emotionally destructive. And most importantly, it distracts from the positive things in life: growth, fun . . . love.

Now, I’m not suggesting you need to “love” your competition. To be successful in business, you do need to have an “I’m in it to win it” mentality; you need to be competitive — and competition is healthy. (Just look at where the Apple-Microsoft wars have gotten us!) But what you don’t need is an “I’m here to screw the other guy” mentality, which in this King Monkey’s humble opinion is how the financial markets ended up in such a mess.

So if “revenge” is your motivation for getting up in the morning, going to work, and selling your “widgets” it’s time to revisit why you’re in business at all.

As a first step, my suggestion is to let go of the negative and embrace the positive. Just step back. Think about what you do best and how you can contribute to solving the problems and/or addressing the “pains” of your customers and clients. That’s what the team at Barrel O’Monkeyz does as part of the “Discovery Phase” when engaging new clients. We take a look at what the client can do to be the best he or she can be. We ask, “what makes the business unique or different?” Sure, we look at competitors to determine what they’re doing and what we’re up against. But we don’t strategize to tear them down. Instead, we strategize to build our clients up.

“Win” by being the best you can be. Take smart action designed to grow your business: build the better product, provide the better service, innovate and create something consumers can’t live without. Hello iPod, iPhone, iPad . . . need I go on? (And just think if we could inject a little of this philosophy into Washington D.C. and our politics in general, what we might accomplish!)

What do you think? What smart actions can YOU take today to win by being the best you can be?

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